A key recommendation from the inquiry was that all buildings over 18 metres high (about 6 stories) need to be inspected to check if the cladding and insulation is safe. The government later issued a revised notice saying that all multi-occupied residential buildings under 18 metres in height need to be inspected as well.
A national problem
These recommendations had major implications across the UK as they potentially affected millions of residents and tens of thousands of buildings. Landlords had to identify any buildings that may be affected, then carry out the necessary inspections.
This has led to a huge demand on the small number of qualified fire safety experts who are needed to carry out the inspections. The problem was made even more complicated by changing government legislation and the decision to extend the inspection programme to buildings under 18 metres.
Then things got more complicated
This already challenging situation became even more difficult in late 2019 when mortgage companies stopped lending to people who lived in affected buildings, unless they had proof their building was not affected by the cladding issues.
The proof the lenders want is an External Wall System Form (EWS1) which can only be completed by a qualified fire safety expert. This is having serious repercussions for residents across the country who wish to sell or re-mortgage their home – it’s difficult to do this without an EWS1 and equally challenging to get one.
What have we done about it?
Due to the far-reaching and serious consequences of these issues for our customers, this project is our top priority. So far, we have:
- Set up a dedicated Building Safety team and we will recruit more staff to help manage the scale of the problem including project managers, building safety managers and resident liaison officers
- Carried out full inspections on nearly all our tall buildings, identified which ones are at a higher risk and implemented interim fire safety measures such as waking watches, which we have paid for
- Explored different fire safety funding options through discussions with contractors, applications for the government’s Building Safety Fund and looking at new homes warranty and insurance providers’ guarantees
- Lobbied the government to release extra funding, provide clarity around building safety guidance and offer ways to unstick the lending market.
What this means for us
We have around 550 properties that we manage that need to be inspected, which is a huge amount of work. We know there are frustrations around how long this process is taking, and we share those with you. There are several reasons for the progress being slower that we’d like:
- It’s difficult to find experts who are qualified and available to carry out the work and it takes time for them to write their reports
- Looking into funding options also takes time and can lead to re-inspections of buildings and lengthy legal discussions with developers
- Change to government legislation has caused confusion
- A large number of properties are affected therefore the building inspection process takes time
Who will pay the bill?
There is unfortunately no clear answer to this. We need to explore the different funding options available to us for each and every building. This can be a very lengthy process, there are no guarantees, and government legislation is changing all the time.
Funding options include:
Building Safety Fund – a pot of money put aside by the government. This only applies to buildings over 18 metres and has strict guidelines and a tight deadline of when the work needs to start by.
The contractor – following investigations, if we find any defects with the original cladding and insulation, we will approach the developer to cover the costs. This can take many months to pursue and may end in litigation which can take even longer.
Insurance – new builds are usually covered by a new homes warranty for up to 10 years after they are built. A claim can be made against the builder if we find any issues that do not meet the new homes warranty requirements.
We understand this is a key area of concern for our residents affected by this situation and it’s a top priority to us as well. We don’t want to pass costs onto leaseholders and will only do this as a last resort.
We are prioritising our tallest buildings first. Once these are complete, we will move onto further phases of the project which will include buildings below 18 metres. We estimate that the project will take a minimum of 5 years to complete. We recognise this is a long time, but we want to be clear and honest with you about what to expect.
How we’ll keep you up to date
We have a dedicated section on our website about building safety, including frequently asked questions if you want to find out more information.
If you have any questions about building safety, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org